GSP Specific Exercise
A common problem many owners face is calming their easily-excited, high-energy hunting dogs. Everybody wants a dog that’s non-stop in the hunting fields, but also calm and well behaved in the house. It is possible to have both, as the GSPs in our house are proof of it, and it all begins with showing the dog how we would like him or her to act.
ASSOCIATION AND STATE OF MIND
It’s important to understand that dogs feed off our energy, as well as crave attention and affection. It’s also important to realize that dogs are great at learning by association.
So, if your dog behaves in an excited manner and gets ‘rewarded’ with attention, then your dog will learn to associate his hyperactivity with attention. The cycle sets itself up. Your dog has come to learn that all he has to do, in order to get your attention and/or affection, is to get into this over excited state of mind.
On the other hand, if your dog receives attention and affection as a reward for showing calm behavior, it becomes more likely that your dog will exhibit calm behavior more often. It’s important to know that we need to exhibit calm energy ourselves when we are offering this affection. If we are excited, the dog will naturally follow suite and join in our excitement.
THE EXERCISE CONNECTION
To help you better understand your dog, it can be helpful to realize that dogs are very closely related to wolves, from a genetic history. In the wild, a wolf will hunt (which gives them both mental and physical exercise), eat, sleep and play. Your dog is naturally equipped to follow this same routine. Exercise is a large part of what creates calm in them. If your dog gets adequate exercise, food, water and affection, they really have nothing left to do but rest and relax.
A walk/run with your dog by your side– you slightly in front– at least 30 minutes a day, is a great place to start. Letting your dog run around in a big back yard is not much more than running inside a big cage. Dogs can get frustrated, watching or chasing what the dog sees as rivals, threats, or prey outside the fence, which they can’t get to. Different dogs have different energy levels.Some are going to require more exercise than others. If you believe your dog gets enough exercise, but doesn’t seem to calm down easily or still has plenty of energy, you may want to try wearing them down more with longer walks, runs or swims. If all you have time for are shorter walks, walk your dog with a back pack full of water. This way they will have to work harder during their walk.
ESTABLISHING A TREADMILL ROUTINE
The best way to exercise a dog for someone who can’t seem to find the time is to get them running on a treadmill. Most dogs can be taught to run on a treadmill with minimal effort and maximum benefits. To teach them to run on the treadmill, first put a lead on the dog. Then, help the dog stand on the treadmill with no motion. It is very important for you to be the leader through this exercise. (If they get uncomfortable or nervous and you end the session for them, they are learning that this is something to be fearful of, in order to get out of something they don’t want to do they need to react this way, and then they are the ones telling you when it’s over.) Stand on the treadmill next to the belt, turn it on, slowly at first. Let the dog get used to the idea of the ground moving. Expect them to struggle a bit. Do not physically hold the dog, but hold the lead. It is best not to keep constant pressure/tension on the lead, because when a dog feels tension, it’s natural reaction is to pull against it. It’s best to give the lead a ‘tug’ forward. If your dog starts moving back, ‘tug’ him forward again. Once he starts walking comfortably you can step off the treadmill, but remain close in case your dog tries to jump off. Turn the speed up a bit to get him into a natural gait. This exercise is very mentally stimulating, because it demands the dog’s concentration. On your first attempts, as you get off the treadmill, chances are the dog will lose his concentration and try to get off, too. When this happens, help him get back on the treadmill and keep going. Tug him gently back into place, and help him get back into that comfortable gait. If the dog jumps off again, keep the treadmill going and lead him back on as quickly as possible.Strive to build on success and not failure. The more a dog jumps off the treadmill, the more it conditions them to jump off and allow for failure. We want them to stay on, to build on success, and learn that we want them to keep concentrating and running. Stand next to your dog, until he is confident and will not try to jump off. Then, slowly move away, but in one-step increments. Again, if the dog jumps off, he is failing, and we want success. If your dog will run comfortably with you two feet away, then he’ll stay there with you three feet away, then four and so on. Your dog will let you know if you are moving too fast. Your first session should be about 10 minutes at 2-4mph, depending on the dog. This can be extended to wherever you would like to take it. You want to stop the treadmill on your terms, not our dog’s terms. If he jumps off and you stop the exercise, then he has made the decision to stop. If he jumps off, you put him back on the treadmill until he is running along comfortably again– and then you shut it off. This way, you, as the leader, have decided when it’s time to stop, and the session ends on a successful, positive note.
BUILDING MENTAL AND PHYSICAL STABILITY
For your dog, learning to run on a treadmill is a great pack leadership exercise. The treadmill provides unstable ground, and dogs do not like unstable ground. If you successfully lead your dog through this uncomfortable situation, you gain trust and respect. This will make all training easier for you and your dog. As you gain little victories on the treadmill, extend your role as leader to other areas. For example, teach him how to stay on his dog bed. In fact, right after he has had some exercise on the treadmill is an ideal time to have him stay on his bed. It’s a natural time to rest– after physical and mental exercise. Here’s how to teach him to stay on his bed. Lead him onto his bed and instruct him to stay. Stand there for a few seconds and start slowly walking away. As the trainer, it’s your role to feel confident that he will stay on the bed. If you expect the dog to leave the bed, it will surely fill that expectation. If he does try to follow you when you leave, walk to him, and help him get back onto the bed. If he tries to walk around you, block him, and corner him so he has to get back onto the bed. Because you are the leader, he will accept your direction, because it is the law of nature to him.Your dog has to learn that, once placed on the dog bed, it must stay until released. Your dog will learn that this is the way the world works, with no exceptions. If this rule is set in stone, your dog will never question its validity. You may also use a sound created just for this. This helps to associate your motions and corrections with a sound. After your dog has familiarized himself with this exercise, if he decides to come off the bed before you release him, you can look in his direction, make the noise, and he will sit back down on the bed. Dogs can only think about one thing at a time. When they start to come off of the bed, they are thinking about following someone into the other room or going to get a bone etc. When they hear that noise, it puts their attention back onto you. At that point, you can redirect his attention to the bed.
YOUR LEADERSHIP PRODUCES CALM
Throughout these exercises, you are letting the dog know that you are higher on the totem pole than they are. This is a very calming reality for your dog. Once they realize that they don’t have to make decisions, such as when it’s time to go for a walk or when it’s time to play, they will be more at ease and comfortable. Daily dominance exercises around the house will help keep your dog calm and balanced. Through physical and mental exercise, daily care, and by you asserting dominance, you will quickly see positive changes in your dog’s behavior.